Saturday, March 9, 2024

It's Oscars Weekend ...


*Editing still in progress.

Updated, 3/10/2024

... and as I usually do, I'm trying to catch up on the nominees and watch them before Oscar night, but I usually don't succeed.  Some of these things, you have to be in the mood for.

I've seen Barbie, The Holdovers, and just last night, Poor Things, and today/tonight, since it's a cold, rainy day, I'll be watching American Fiction and Killers of the Flower Moon (if the price comes down from 20 bucks to stream the latter!)

So keep in mind as you read this that I have NOT yet seen American Fiction, Killers of the Flower Moon, Maestro, or Oppenheimer yet, though I love Cillian Murphy and suspect Oppenheimer and KOTFM will do a semi-sweep.  

I think it's the intensity and somberness of both films that I have to be in the right mood for, plus KOTFM and Oppenheimer are 3 and 3-1/2 hours long - who has time for nearly 4-hour movies anymore? 

That's right, Scorsese - I love you, you're the master,  but I AM, in fact, "talkin' to you" πŸ˜‚

I mean, a book, you can put down and come back to later, but nobody has time to sit in a movie theater for almost 4 hours anymore.  And even you've rented a streamer, you have to finish it in 48 hours and we all do have work and lives and kids' lives to do, too. 

Now, also keep in mind that I wanted to be a screenwriter at one time, and that I've said there are only two things I'm snobby about, film and architecture - because I feel if you have the ungodly amount of money it takes to do either, then do them right -  so it takes a lot to impress me.

Thus, I'll give you my thoughts on what I've seen thus far?

(After I see the two tonight, I may update this post, we'll see.)


I should start by saying that although I look at ratings, I don't read critics' actual reviews of Oscar-contender movies until AFTER I've seen the movies myself, so that I can see them with fresh eyes.

Also, I try to remember that we are still watching movies re-emerge after the pandemic, so IMO, it's been slim pickins since, shall we say, for a couple of years, and we're just now starting to see the big-budget films with big-name actors return, and IMO, we're STILL waiting for the type of caliber as before. 

Having said that, though Barbie was a fun movie with a twist on what you think about Barbie, and as much as I love Greta Gerwig, I ... really hope she doesn't wain for Barbie. 

I mean, it was fun, but let's be honest, it wasn't Oscar material.

If Greta DID win for best director or picture or screenplay, it'd actually be kind of a slap in the face to women that it's only this kind of stuff we can win for, rather than heavy-hitting material? 

Same for Margot Robbie, I've seen her do better work in better things.  America Ferrera, too. 

Quite frankly, this movie didn't deserve to be nominated for an Oscar in anything but set design and costume design, maybe soundtrack - NOT best picture, best director, and acting awards, come on.

I think it's just one of those "I think they're just trying to make up for prior losses, knowing they should've won" types of things, like when they give the Lifetime Achievement award πŸ˜‚

IMO, not only should Oscar-worthy movies have flawless and seamless directing, editing, cinematography, dialogue, and acting, but more importantly, they should have a good story, and not just a story that leaves no loose ends and doesn't suspend our disbelief too far, but even more importantly - a story that hasn't been told before, or at least a story that is told from a different perspective or in a vastly different way than we've seen before?

Thus, to me, the Oscars are really about innovation, breaking new ground, while still telling us a good, airtight story in a believable way, even if we have to suspend our disbelief for a while (but not too far or too long in its absurdity)

Which brings me to The Holdovers, with an excellent message, perhaps an old revived message, told from a different perspective  ... 

... and yet I can't help this movie ending with the thought "this could've been done better?"

More on that below.


A white male college professor at a prestigious all-boys Northeastern Boys Prep School has much disdain for his students and reserves his compassion for the poor and those who have truly struggled or lost much in life, and most of the time, he's right about his students and their families - until he meets one student, who at first is the sarcastic bane of his existence, despite setting the curve on his overly harsh grades. 

We learn that there's more than meets the eye, with this kid, who not only gets left behind at the school for Christmas by his mother and stepfather, but is hiding a secret about his father that he cannot share with anyone and is in tremendous pain. 

We white people tend to do that, that's true.  We expect other white people to behave a certain way and only tolerate other people getting upset about petty, trivial things, because real pain and struggle is often too much for us - AKA "white fragility"  is a real thing.  

Also, we confuse burying emotions with strength, when true strength is compartmentalizing things so you can get stuff done, but letting yourself feel emotions at a good time and then moving past them, rather than stuffing them so they come out in other ways, particularly shaming other people for displaying them.

And in this day and age especially, both political parties tend to sanction us to only feel compassion for certain labeled groups.

Like for the political right, it's veterans and other white people.

For the left, it's also veterans, but more about anyone else BUT white people.

HOWEVER, both parties are guilty of believing that money solves all problems and heals pain and thus don't need our compassion.

And that's the lesson of this film: Don't let politics or society dictate who is the most deserving of your compassion.

Let your compassion instead be guided simply by anyone in actual pain, regardless of "deservingness," remembering that no amount of money will fill emotional voids and heal emotional pain.

Now - that does NOT mean we should allow our compassion to be manipulated or enable behaviors that aren't good for them/the people around them, just that compassion IS in order, albeit with boundaries to keep yourself/the person safe, "and to stop letting society tell us who we should feel compassion for and shouldn't!

Otherwise, as much as I am always impressed by Paul Giamatti's acting skills, I wasn't blown away.  I just said to myself "Paul Giamatti is killing it, like he always does" - but it wasn't anything new for him or a character stretch?

So I was more impressed Da'Vine Joy Randolph, best supporting actress nominee - specifically the kitchen breakdown scene over her son ...

... but otherwise, she was just sort of hanging out blandly in the background, they all were, as if they all took a backseat to the scenery as its own character.  

Don't get me wrong, the scenery should be its own character, I love that - but let's not lose the characters in the scenery, either? 

(Special mention to Dominic Sessa, though, while although his acting may not have Oscar-rendering performance, was still incredible, despite having been discovered at an open audition at the boys' prep school location where the movie was being filmed!)

Honestly, though, as much as I loved the message of this movie, it's one of my favorites over the past few years, as I said earlier, I also felt it could've been done better overall.

And you know who's fault that is? 

The director.

I have nothing against Alexander Payne, it's just that although he was really good at effective environmental scenes to set the tone, the shots on the actual actors as they had emotional meltdowns or moments were too far away, which is an essential part of the audience making an emotional connection with a character?

For instance, when "Mary" breaks down in the kitchen at a party at Christmas over the death of her son in Vietnam, I'm thinking "WHY ARE WE WATCHING HER HAVE THIS EMOTIONAL BREAKDOWN OVER THE DEATH OF HER SON FROM ACROSS THE ROOM?!" πŸ˜‚

Or - SPOILER ALERT - when "Professor Paul" is making the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of Angus, again, I'm thinking "Why are we watching this monumental moment for main character from across the room?!?"

Okay, yes -  in real life, that's how it would probably look, and yet wouldn't you naturally move closer to that person?

Nope.  Instead, Alexander just stands there awkwardly and lets it happen,  as if it didn't just happen, which reminds us that we're an audience watching, and just moves on to the next scene, la la la, that didn't happen, which prevents the audience from relating better to the characters.

I couldn't find a still image of either scene, but here's an example - we have mood lighting to set the tone, a darkly beautiful background with spotlighting meant to create an intimate feel - and yet we don't feel that, because we're still too far away from the characters to better relate to them!?!

Also, the actual film quality was almost grainy, and the sound editing was atrocious, at least in my view.  (Sound editing isn't something you notice at all when done well, but when it's done poorly, you know - even if you can't put your finger exactly on what's not working.)

I'm not sure if that was intentional because it was set in the late 60s or what, but it doesn't help your ability to emotionally connect with the characters much.

Moving on, just last night I watched "Poor Things."  I must forewarn you, it's a weird, effing movie and there's lots of soft-porn going on -  but if you're an artist/creative type, you'll get it. Mostly. 

Of course the premise is grotesque, absurd, and impossible, especially during the Victorian era - but the good news is, you can suspend your disbelief to "what if" in thought provocation?

However, there were some major problems with it.

For instance, I get where the movie was trying to go, and had it gotten there, I'd be telling a different story - but it didn't.

It's supposed to be a twist on a Pygmalion/My Fair Lady story where instead of allowing her creator to control her or running back to him out of either codependency or fear, the creation breaks free from control and finds her own path as a feminist icon.

However, if I'm supposed to be watching a new feminist icon in the making, why am I at the same time watching her full-frontal-nudity sex scenes every other minute, while we don't see the same for the males?

I mean, sure, I get that being free of social constraints and her sexual liberation was an essential part of the character, and yet scene after scene of Emma Stone's gratuitous full-frontal nudity sex/orgasm scenes - without doing the same for men - kind of detracted from the "feminist icon" point.

It became so gratuitous that I just started thinking to myself, "Wow, Yorgas Lanthimos must've just wanted to repeatedly see Emma Stone naked and having orgasms, because the rest of us are getting bored"

In fact, my final synopsis thought was: "This is not true feminism or social-expectation defiance - this is a male-fantasized ideal of what true feminism and freedom is, making being liberated all about sex without commitment and lack of true emotional attachment - this is what MEN would do if they were female!?!

And upon checking, sure enough, both the book AND the screenplay were written by men, directed by a man!

Greta Gerwig, you care to chime in here? πŸ˜‚

In fact, why don't you remake this movie from a female perspective, still using Emma Stone and Willem Dafoe (and though I love Mark Ruffalo, not his best performance).

Once again, I think many modern feminists confuse feminism with being allowed to behave like stereotypical white, powerful men, when that is not necessarily a good thing to emulate!

In fact, maybe no one should be acting that ways!

But I digress, on the positive side, some things that I think were done well.

Though her brain development is fast, it's spot on with Piaget's child development theories; differentiation between the self and others and empathy, life versus death, concrete versus abstract logic, all of it.

But we have to remember that the motor-muscle development is already there because it's a baby's brain in an adult body, so development would be especially quick.

Also keep in mind that the brain never again grows as rapidly as it does in the first two years of life, the brain is like a little sponge, absorbing everything.

Along the lines of feminism that I think were done well was recognition that despite women getting a bad wrap for the desire to "trap and control," it has historically actually been men that have done this to women.

Thus, with the exception of her "creator" father eventually learns that as much as he wants to protect her from the world, the only way she's going to learn how horrible the world can be is to experience it, trusting her intelligence and that his advice thus far will suffice in making good choices - which is all you CAN do as a parent - even if you know they're making a huge mistake, even if it hurts YOU - they have to sometimes learn the hard way, and all you can do is hope that your words of wisdom and experience will eventually sink in.  

Also kudos to her future husband's character, who understands her background fully and lets her go have her fun, but will await her return when she's ready to settle down, as promised. 

Because the old adage is true - if you truly love someone, set them free - and if they love you, they will return. And if not, they won't, and that's okay because you're both better off - and then find someone who wants to stay 

Now, having said all of that about the mixed point of the film, I still must give kudos to Emma Stone, I was impressed by her emotional range in this film. 

Her ability to express genuine child-like joy in her eyes, rage, sorry, later empathy, was phenomenal.  I wouldn't say I was blown away, but I was impressed.  

The emotions of showing genuine interest - or joy, mischievousness, or intelligence -  are particularly hard emotions to convey from the eyes, when acting - but Emma is successfully able to do it.

Speaking of things that would be hard to express believably in a room full of a mostly male film crew - and  eventually the world - having to fake an orgasm believably, THAT many times! 

So I wouldn't say that I was blown away by her acting skills, but I would say that she has shown us what she can do other than play the pithy, sassy, sarcastic, smart college-girl movie roles. 

So overall summary - keeping in mind that I'm a harsh film critic - thus far, from what I've seen, nothing and no one has blown me away since before the pandemic.

However, though not blown away, I will say that I was somewhat impressed with Paul Giamatti and especially Emma Stone's acting, and the innovative story-telling of "Poor Things," despite feeling that both films could've been done better.

I'm not saying that I could do them better, mind you, just that there are people who could have?

Otherwise, let me watch the other contenders and we'll see if anything blows me away πŸ˜‚


Update:  3/10/2024

So I've watched American Fiction and Past Lives, but I didn't have time to watch Oppenheimer or Killers of the Flower Moon before the Oscars start, in an hour, so I guess I'll be saving the favored-to-win for last, probably after Oppenheimer has  swept it, from what I understand. 

Quick thoughts on the above two that I have seen since yesterday- Past Lives made me cry in the best of ways from nostalgia and in a cleansing sort of way ... 

... and American Fiction made me both think and laugh out loud, sometimes at the same time, both at the movie and at ourselves - brilliant, thought-provoking, social commentary.  

Most striking of the thought-provocations is unfortunately true it is, how much we white people only want to read/watch, as the main character "Monk" puts it,  "black trauma porn," and have little interest in stories by black authors that aren't about being poor and black.

Are we guilty of that? 

Yes, we are - but this film doesn't shame us, it makes us laugh at ourselves about how ridiculous we areπŸ˜‚ 

The only thing that didn't quite fit about it was the end?  

Now, I've mentioned before that I hate the whole "pick your own ending/leave it up to interpretation" thing, but in this case, that wasn't the issue; in fact, I have to admit, it totally worked and that was the point - instead of giving it a realistic ending, give it the Hollywood ending that sells, that everyone wants, regardless of how absurd it is :)

I think because I think if the whole movie had been like a narration of the ideas in his head, but it wasn't, it only happened only twice, which came off as somewhat of confusing, "WTF moment" for a minute. 

I might have a whole other post on American Fiction, because it was so brilliant.

The only other downside is that as much as I loved every actor/actress in this movie - particularly Tracee Ellis Ross - no big "Oscar moment" acting scene from anyone, which Best Actor/Pictures usually have, but we shall see, very soon ...

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